March 28, 2013

Maine backs Indian father's parental rights

The state joins a lawsuit before the Supreme Court in which an adoptive couple is challenging a 1978 law.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Maine has joined a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that the attorney general says has implications for the state's Indian tribes.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said she signed on to a brief prepared by the state of Arizona in support of the parental rights of the biological father of "Baby Veronica," the central figure in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which the nation's highest court will hear in April.

The case hinges on the court's interpretation of a 1978 federal law that was adopted to keep Indian children with Indian families, after many children were removed from parents' homes by public and private agencies that placed them largely with white families.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in January, after the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered a South Carolina couple who adopted the girl to send her back to her biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma, The Associated Press has reported.

The couple attended the baby's birth and adopted her from the non-Native American mother shortly thereafter.

The father of the child, Dusten Brown, who had renounced his parental rights to his ex-fianc?in a text message, changed his mind when he learned that she was putting the child up for adoption before leaving for military service in Iraq. He then filed for custody, Reuters reported.

The state court's 3-2 decision noted that even though the parents in South Carolina, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, were "ideal" and the decision was made with "a heavy heart," the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 "applies and confers conclusive custodial preference to the Indian parent."

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Capobiancos' appeal.

Mills, on the side of Brown, said during a news conference Thursday that the 1978 act was passed to prevent Indians' assimilation into white culture.

If the act "in any way is watered down or its impact that it has in preserving the tribes' sovereignty and culture" is affected, "it will have an impact on tribes in Maine," said state Rep. Wayne Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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